The clean air package: Improving Europe's air quality
What is the clean air policy package?
The clean air package aims to substantially reduce air pollution across the EU. The proposed strategy sets out objectives for reducing the health and environmental impacts of air pollution by 2030, and contains legislative proposals to implement stricter standards for emissions and air pollution.
The package was published by the Commission on 18 December 2013, and consists of a communication on the 'clean air programme for Europe', plus three legislative proposals on emissions and air pollution.
Clean air package in figures
By 2030, compared to the current situation, measures under the clean air package are estimated to:
- avoid 58 000 premature deaths
- save 123 000km2 of ecosystems from nitrogen pollution
- save 56 000km2 of protected Natura 2000 areas
- save 19 000km2 of forest ecosystems from acidification
Why do we need it?
Poor air quality has a negative impact on our quality of life. It causes many health issues, such as asthma and cardiovascular problems. This in turn results in lost working days due to ill health, and higher costs for healthcare services, especially for children and the elderly.
Health problems linked to poor air quality are particularly bad in built-up urban areas, where air quality is generally lower. Poor air quality is also the number one cause of premature death across the EU, and actually has a higher impact than road traffic accidents. In addition to the damaging effects on human health, poor air quality also damages ecosystems.
Implementing the clean air package would result in improved air quality for all EU citizens, and lower healthcare costs for governments. The proposals would also benefit industry, as measures to reduce air pollution should boost innovation and enhance EU competitiveness in the field of green technology.
The clean air package is made up of several elements:
- the clean air programme for Europe - a Commission strategy outlining measures to ensure that existing targets are met and setting out new air quality objectives for the period up to 2030
- a revised national emission ceilings directive, with strict emissions ceilings for the six main pollutants
- a proposed directive to reduce pollution from medium-sized combustion plants
- a proposal to approve amended international rules on long-range transboundary air pollution (the Gothenburg Protocol) at EU level
The decision-making process in the Council
The Council usually decides together with the European Parliament, through the ordinary legislative procedure. In some specific areas, it uses the consent or consultation procedure, where the Parliament's role is limited.
In the Council
The Commission communication on the clean air programme was submitted to the Council on 20 December 2013. The Commission also presented the programme to the Council, together with the accompanying legislative proposals, at a meeting of the Environment Council on 3 March 2014.
Two elements of the clean air package fall under the ordinary legislative procedure - the proposal to modify national emission ceilings, and the proposal on medium-sized combustion plants. On these two legislative proposals, the Council therefore co-legislates with the European Parliament.
The Council has recently adopted the directive on medium-sized combustion plants in December 2015. The Council formally adopted the revised NEC Directive on 8 December 2016. Previously, the European Parliament approved it during its plenary on 23 November 2016
The proposal on the Gothenburg Protocol requires a Council decision. The European Parliament therefore must give its consent once the Council wishes to adopt the legislative proposal.